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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Yet another entry in some things that go on bump in the night behind the scenes in a screenplay competition that can give some insight, maybe, who knows, into how scripts are chosen and make their way to the top.
This is my memory of something that happened during the course of a competition. I was at an office picking up scripts when one of the other readers came in. The reader was very excited about a script he had read not long ago and in fact, I had just read it. I wasn't quite as excited; I thought the script had problems.
He began his enthusiasm over the script by saying it was wonderful to finally read a script where the central character wanted something, had a clear cut goal, instead of being the more passive character that was gaining more and more popularity lately. He asked me, didn't I agree, and I replied, that when it came to passive/active characters, it all depended on the screenplay. This other reader suddnely got very upset and said basically, no, it didn't, that a screenplay with an active character was inherently superior.
For some time now, there had been a conflict arising in the screenwriting world on the idea of active versus passive central characters. Before this, ost people were telling me that books they read, courses they took, etc. said that characters had to be active. Of course, as is often the case, as soon as someone creates a rule, or codifies something, artists try to break it (and often find out that writers in the past had never paid attention to the rule in the first place). And more and more passive characters were being created. These characters became so popular, that the descriptive name had to be changed from passive to reactive as a way the earlier opponents of such characters could justify to themselves such a character's allowability.
At any rate, the reader got so tense about my statement, that the contest coordinator interfered and calmed the waters. I was taken aback by what seemed at the time to be a rather dogmatic reaction to what seemed to me to be an innocous statement.
In the end, this screenplay didn't make the top lists mainly because it's structure was sort of the traditional kind that authors who read books and takes courses write. It didn't take any real chances and it had a final third that sort of fell apart. It was one of these scripts that tended to be written according to a set of rules rather than from a vision on the part of the author. And the scripts that did make the top of the list were, more often than not, scripts that were trying new things, experimenting with structure and form, unusual in style, had a certain edge, were trying to do something different and challenging.
Of course, screenplay competitions vary and different contests have different tastes and slants. But I'm all for the ones that encourage one to be different.

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